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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Busy day for NH governor’s race with money returned, big name endorsement

CONCORD – Gov. Maggie Hassan has returned $9,000 from a union-based political action committee amid a second New Hampshire Republican State Committee-led complaint to Attorney General Joseph Foster.

In other developments, Hassan’s campaign aired its first television commercial as the first-term Democrat spoke from her office about bipartisan accomplishments – a balanced state budget, gas tax increase to support highway construction work and expanding Medicaid coverage to low-income adults. ...

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CONCORD – Gov. Maggie Hassan has returned $9,000 from a union-based political action committee amid a second New Hampshire Republican State Committee-led complaint to Attorney General Joseph Foster.

In other developments, Hassan’s campaign aired its first television commercial as the first-term Democrat spoke from her office about bipartisan accomplishments – a balanced state budget, gas tax increase to support highway construction work and expanding Medicaid coverage to low-income adults.

Republican candidate Walt Havenstein secured the endorsement of one of the state’s best-known part-time residents, 2012 presidential nominee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who owns a summer home in Wolfeboro.

On Wednesday, GOP state chairwoman Jennifer Horn, of Nashua, questioned whether $25,000 from the Plumbers and Steam Fitters Political Action Committee given to Hassan for her 2012 race and $10,000 for her 2014 campaign were legal.

“Given Gov. Hassan’s history of accepting illegal contributions – and the concern for, and potential of, undue influence stemming from such illegal contributions – we ask that the Department of Justice review both the 2012 $25,000 donation and the 2014 $10,000 donation to ensure that they are legal,” Horn said.

Horn called upon Foster to step aside from investigating the 2012 check Hassan got because at that time, Foster was on the finance committee of Hassan’s campaign.

“Given this connection to the 2012 donation, and your involvement in developing and guiding then-candidate Hassan’s fundraising strategies and outreach, it would be best if you stepped aside in this matter in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, and to ensure the continued confidence of New Hampshire residents,” Horn said.

Like past governors and many state senators, Hassan took advantage of a loophole that allowed incumbents and newcomers to take bigger cash donations before they file as an official candidate in June of the election year.

Last week, Foster ordered Hassan’s campaign to return $24,000 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers PAC because that check came in a day after she had signed up to run.

Foster’s ruling broke new ground in that it made crystal-clear for the first time that there was no limit on how much these political action committees could give to anyone who set up their own PAC before signing up for office.

A Hassan campaign spokesman said in light of Foster’s “new guidance,” it returned on Monday all but $1,000 of the donation that the plumbers PAC had given her in June.

As for the $25,000 donation the plumbers PAC gave in 2012, it was written and delivered on the same day Hassan signed up, so that was perfectly legal, press secretary Aaron Jacobs said.

“It’s clear from the New Hampshire Republican Party’s desperate attacks that they’re trying to distract from the fact that their candidates are simply rehashing the same disastrous Bill O’Brien/Koch Brothers agenda that voters rejected in 2012,” Jacobs said in a statement.

Hassan’s paid media campaign began less than five weeks before the Sept. 9 primary.

She faces only token opposition from Ian Freeman, of Keene, and Clecia Terrio, of Manchester.

“How did we solve some of our state’s most pressing problems? By bringing people together. Sounds simple, but it works,” Hassan said during the commercial.

In the GOP race, Romney became the latest in a long line of state and national heavyweights to line up behind Havenstein, the retired defense contracting executive who lives in Alton.

“Maggie Hassan has been too busy thinking about running for the U.S. Senate in 2016 to focus on the job at hand: fixing New Hampshire’s economic stagnation,” Romney said in a statement.

“Walt Havenstein is exactly what New Hampshire needs right now. From his service to our country in the Marine Corps, to running some of the world’s best businesses, including BAE Systems, Walt has the leadership experience to turn New Hampshire’s economy around.”

Hassan is widely viewed among state and national Democratic leaders as the party’s best hope to try to unseat Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., in 2016.

Hassan has dismissed interest in that race, but that dismissal has done nothing to dampen speculation and enthusiasm among party leaders.

Havenstein pledged, if elected, to hold 24 town halls in his first two-year term, one in each state Senate district.

“Avoiding talking to the people you are supposed to serve is no way to govern,” Havenstein said. “Perhaps Maggie Hassan simply doesn’t want to answer questions about New Hampshire’s stagnant economy.”

Democratic Party leaders said Havenstein and Romney were bottom-line chief executives and pointed out that during the time Havenstein ran a Virginia company, the firm shed nearly 5,000 jobs, had its stock plummet and was forced to settle a $600 million government contracting scandal.

“Granite Staters should be worried that Havenstein is touting an endorsement from Mitt Romney, who helped pioneer the destructive model of shipping jobs overseas to pad corporate profits,” said New Hampshire Democratic Party spokesman Bryan Lesswing.

Republican primary rival Andrew Hemingway, of Bristol, said Romney’s endorsement is far less significant than his winning a second straight straw poll victory among GOP activists this week in Nashua.

“We’ll take two straw poll wins by the people of New Hampshire over a big name endorsement any day,” Hemingway said in a statement.

On Monday, Hemingway beat Havenstein, 23-14, at a meeting of the Greater Nashua Area Federation of Republican Women.

Last month, Hemingway won, 111-43, among those polled at a picnic a statewide taxpayers group had hosted.

Early independent polls show Hassan beating either GOP contender by a nearly 2-1 margin.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at
321-7040 or klandrigan@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).